13 December 2010

Happy 156th, Herman! See You Soon

Today is Herman Bavinck's birthday. He was born December 13, 1854. (Thanks, Tony Reinke)

In tribute to the man who has meant as much to me the past year and a half as any other dead guy, I want to pass along a fascinating vignette from Ron Gleason's wonderful biography that has just been published.

Herman was significantly influenced by his father (who of us isn't?), Jan, who was gifted for pastoral ministry but as a young man lacked the money to get the necessary theological training. Gleason recounts:
The pressing desire to become a minister on the one hand and the very obvious lack of the necessary financial means to reach that goal on the other hand created a conflict and an obstacle for which Jan saw no solution. Clearly, if he were to pursue theological studies, something very unusual would need to happen to resolve the problem for him. Nothing short of divine intervention as needed.

Seeing no answer to the financial dilemma, Jan took an apprenticeship position in a nearby village to help pay the bills and feed the family. Three years would pass before God would intervene. The opportunity Jan had been patiently waiting for came very unexpectedly on January 17, 1845, and it was a monumental event in his life.

On that cold winter day . . . the congregations of the Hannover region held a classis meeting (the Reformed counterpart to a Presbyterian presbytery meeting). There were 22 delegates present at the home of a local farmer. . . . At this particular meeting, Pastor Sundag informed the brothers that he could no longer physically bear the arduous preaching responsibilities alone and asked the classis to appoint a candidate from the churches to receive [paid-for] instruction in theology with a view to preparation for service in the pastoral ministry. After many years of faithfully preaching to numerous congregations, Sundag was in desperate need of rest.

Though sympathetic to Sundag, the classis hesitated in granting his request. They were unsure about their ability to find a suitable candidate. They decided to vote on the matter of moving forward with Sundag's request. When the vote was tallied, there was a tie--eleven to eleven! The men then knelt in prayer and asked the Lord's guidance in casting a lot to decide the matter. They called in one of the girls who was helping to serve and prepare meals and asked her to draw the lot. The slip of paper she drew read, 'For.' With the decision made, the men of the classis began to discuss their choice of a candidate.

Five candidates had informed the classis they were interested in theological studies. . . . Three of the candidates were eliminated during further discussion in the meeting. Two candidates remained: Frederik Huisken and Jan Bavinck. After more intense discussion and detailed interviews of both candidates, the classis move to a vote concerning the choice of the candidate. Once again, the vote was a tie--eleven to eleven. The young woman from the kitchen appeared again to break the tie by lot. Our 'mysterious young lady' chose the slip of paper on which was written the name 'Bavinck.'

This act of God's providence carried out by a simple, young woman from the kitchen whose name has remained unknown gave Jan Bavinck the opportunity for which he had been waiting and longing. It opened the door for him to begin his theological studies. It was an event that would profoundly affect the course of Dutch church history.
--Ron Gleason, Herman Bavinck: Pastor, Churchman, Statesman, and Theologian (P&R, 2010), 10-12

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